PALMYRA, Maine — Voters here will face the tough decision June 8 to close the only school in town or to bear a property tax increase that could approach 30 percent.
The Regional School Unit 19 board of directors voted last month to close Palmyra Consolidated School effective July 1 as part of a plan to shave $1.5 million from its $23 million budget. The $1.5 million in cuts are necessary because of a sudden and severe drop in state funding, which was caused by the poor performance of the economy, according to school officials.
Superintendent William Braun told a group of about 35 residents who turned out for an informational meeting Tuesday that the decision to close the school will save more than $488,000. If Palmyra voters opt to keep the school open, the town would have to pay the entire $488,000 on top of what it will already pay in educa-tional and municipal costs.
Still, some people in town want the school left open.
“I’m really, really disappointed in my superintendent and the chairman of the school board,” said Donna Cray. “You’ve been crying wolf about closing this school for years, and now we’re suddenly going to close it? I call that a lack of communication. This process has just left us standing with nothing.”
Cray and others in the audience lamented the fact that without a fire department, police department, library or community center, Palmyra will lose its most valuable gathering place.
“I just hate to see it closed,” said Don Hill, a Palmyra resident who was formerly the school’s principal.
One option for the future of the building is for it to be turned over to the town, but that means the town would have to pay to maintain it.
In addition to closing the school, Braun said 14.5 positions are on the chopping block along with deep across-the-board cuts in supply and operations budgets. With the package of cuts being proposed, RSU 19’s fiscal year 2011 budget will be in the neighborhood of $21.4 million.
Daniel Sprague, chairman of the Palmyra Board of Selectmen, said after the meeting that a large percentage of Palmyra residents can’t afford a tax increase of 30 percent, which he estimates is what it would cost taxpayers to keep the school open. That’s why he’s voting to close the school and urging anyone who asks him to do the same.
“I hate to see it close, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. “I started school here in 1957, but the old people in town just can’t afford to pay the burden.”
A second informational meeting about the closure and the rest of the RSU 19 budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 18, at Nokomis Regional High School in Newport.